Yet Another Tips Post on Job Applications

There is so much literature out there already on how to write job applications (namely cover letters and resumes) that I wasn’t sure I was going to write this post, but based on the job applications that I was looking over, I’m almost amazed at how many glaring errors people still make. Continue reading Yet Another Tips Post on Job Applications

Applying for Jobs is a Job in Itself, seriously.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I am still amazed at the number of students, especially in library school that do not understand that applying for jobs is hard work and might as well be a part time job. So much of this will sound redundant or obvious to those who know what they’re doing, but I have been asked by a few people before what I’m doing to get jobs, so here are all my “secrets” spilled. Continue reading Applying for Jobs is a Job in Itself, seriously.

The Whirlwind of Getting and Starting a New Job

I got a job! Mind you, it’s a contract and not a permanent job, but I think any new graduate will agree that even that is a feat when looking only within Canada, and being at least somewhat particular about what job to accept. In light of the whole process, I thought I would reflect a little on various aspects of getting and starting a job.

Prioritizing

I think it’s important for every person to decide on what they want in a job before applying to everything. Totally common sense I’m sure, but strangely for me, it took some time to really figure out what I wanted in terms of:

  • type of position – willing to take anything? including non-professional positions?
  • location – willing to move? what regions? urban or rural?
  • type of organization – libraries only or other information organizations?
  • salary – is there a minimum amount?

I’ll not spend time on the application and interview parts of the process as I’ve covered them before in other posts. I will only say that while it’s important to be flexible, you might think about whether you’re willing to spend money on flying somewhere if the organization will not pay for you.

My Interview

My interview was a particularly interesting situation as due to the available times, I ended up doing my interview after a 10-hour flight which I was sick on, 1-hour train ride, 20-minutes car ride, and a few hours to prepare and feel better. We also had a couple of technical difficulties, but I took them in stride (always have a back up plan!) as well as I could.

I also got asked a lot of questions about things that I honestly just did not know about. JAZZ? REST? Huh? Others I knew, but had absolutely no experience in, like AJAX, ColdFusion. I admitted to being unfamiliar with them and tried to emphasize that I am willing to learn (though I felt like a little bit of a broken record by the time I was done). Still, I think the important lesson is not to be daunted by the questions, since the questions are asked of all the interviewees.

Negotiating a Contract

As a new graduate, I was very nervous about negotiating my first professional contract. Thankfully, I had just finished my management class, so I took the advice of my instructor and inquired about:

  • benefits
  • relocation
  • vacation/sick leave
  • professional development
  • higher than minimum salary by considering my student work

Some things were a simple ‘no’ as mine is a contract and not a permanent position, but then I would never have known without asking. I think the last is especially important since many graduates may think that their work as a student will not count towards their salary, and while at some organizations it may not get the same level of consideration, that does not mean it will not be considered at all.

Starting a New Job

It’s important to know where you’re going and what time you’re expected the first day (oh and knowing what to bring for HR form filling), but beyond that,  I think it’s okay to just take your time getting into it. Certainly, I’ve been a little worried especially since there are various technical things to take care of, but thankfully, people seem very understanding of needing some time to settle in.

Getting a Job Also Means Not Always Taking a Job

So recently, many people I know (including myself) have been applying for jobs. Although it may be tempting as a new graduate to take any job that comes along (especially a permanent one), over the course of a couple of co-ops and student jobs, I began to realize that one of the most important aspects of a job is the work environment. This may seem obvious, but again, as a new graduate, most of us would be happy to even get an interview, let alone a hopes at a job.

Red Flags

Even as new graduates, I think we should have certain expectations and if something throws up a red flag, we should be careful. If something throws up two or three, remember to reconsider whether you would take the job.

Say you get an interview. Great, right? Well, yes… but then what if some worrisome things started popping up? If say it was a permanent position, I would expect a lot of libraries to fly someone in for a second stage in-person interview. If they’re not willing, you might look into why. Budget might be a reason in the current economic environment, but then you might also consider whether the job is worth paying hundreds of dollars for the interview.

How was the first interview? Did you get a good sense of how people were like? Did you like the way that they did it? Did you feel like you were wasting your time? If you get negative ‘vibe’, research more about the library, ask colleagues and friends if they know anything. Think about whether you would want to work there for a year, for five, for ten.

Prepare Your Own Questions

I think the easiest way to get a better feel is to ask your own questions at the end of the interview. Again, this sounds obvious, but some people do not seem to be willing to ask questions such as:

  • How would you describe your management style?
  • How would you describe the team dynamics?
  • What do you like most about working for your organization?
  • Is there anything that stands out as a benefit to working for your organization?
  • etc.

I’ve asked these questions before myself and have gotten some pretty good answers from some and some vague ones from others. Vague isn’t always bad since it depends who your interviewers are, but on a panel, there should be at least one person who can properly answer each question.

Current Job Opportunities for System Librarians

For one of my management assignments, I decided to do a job analysis of the current job opportunities.

Purpose

Looking at the various aspects of the job postings to look at where and what opportunities are available as well as what is being looked for.

Methodology

Collected all systems related librarian positions which were primarily either systems or web services from September 1 to October 15. I collected 19 job postings and tallied the various aspects including skills and areas of knowledge required and preferred.

Results

The Basics

Jobs were primarily in academic libraries (17 of 19) and a majority were permanent full time (13). The job subareas and titles differ, but were generally broken down in this way:

Systems & Technical Services 2
Systems 8
Web Services 11
User Experience 1

Jobs were also generally in the East.

Canada United States
West 1 West 4
Central 1 Central 2
East 4 East 7

Finally of the salaries that were listed the average minimum of $49,000.

Education & Work Experience

No surprise that every single posting required: MLIS degree from ALA accredited school or equivalent.

Most required or preferred at least 2 years of experience, and preferred but did not usually required experience within the area of hiring.

Graph Years of ExperienceGraph of type of experienceNote that the “type” is an indication of whether the experience needs to be in the same type of library (e.g. academic library by posting from academic library).

Duties

Many positions included non-technical related duties. The top two:

  • Reference – 37% (7)
  • General/Student Instruction – 26% (5)

Technology Related Skills & Areas of Knowledge

As the majority of the positions were web services related, there was a bit of a bias towards skills that are web related, but generally for systems, I simply found that there were less specific technology requirements and it was also more diverse. The top technology related required skills & areas of knowledge:

  • HTML/XHTML – 58% (11)
  • Web Development/Design – 47% (9)
  • CSS – 42% (8)
  • Standards & Best Practices – 37% (7)
  • Emerging Technologies, Trends, & Issues – 37% (7)
  • Usability/User Experience – 32% (6)
  • JavaScript – 26% (5)

As I said, the range was wide and included everything from server administration to proxy to analytics.

General Skills & Areas of Knowledge

What might (or might not) surprise people is that the top required skills and areas of knowledge were general in nature and not technology related.

  • Communications & Interpersonal – 95% (18)
  • Collaboration & Teamwork – 84% (16)
  • Project Management, Planning & Organization – 68% (13)
  • Problem Solving & Analysis – 58% (11)
  • Work Independently – 47% (9)
  • Leadership – 26% (5)
  • Flexible & Creative – 26% (5)

If anything, I think this trend is encouraging for new graduates as it seems that “soft” skills are more important than the technology/technical skills which frankly, many of us just do not have the opportunity to learn in library school, but with some tech savvy would be more than willing and able to learn on the job.

Limitations

There are some obvious limitations to my analysis. For one, some job postings were no longer accessible as they were closed, which meant that they were not included. For my purposes, I also left out all management positions, such as AUL and director positions.

Another issue is that how qualifications were grouped was very subjective on my part, so may not have been consistent. For example, planning and organization was grouped with project management, but results would have been different if the three had been kept separate.

Possible Future Work

It would be interesting to see what the trends are in general rather than only looking at systems positions, but that would be a much larger effort.

Hopefully this information is useful for anyone else in North America interested in systems related jobs.

Library Job Postings Sites

Was going to post this sooner, but been sick. As I begin to look for jobs, I have amalgamated a fair list of RSS feeds that I thought would be useful for. This will be copied over to the Resources page.

Lower Mainland

Canada

United States

If there are any more, I would love to hear about them!

On a side note: I updated my links list as well to blogs that update more often and that might be more relevant to LibTech topics.

BCLA ALPS – Getting Hired in Higher Education

Today was the Getting Hired in Higher Education event at SLAIS, organized by Tara Stephens and Danielle Winn, executives of ALPS (Academic Librarians in Public Service) section and myself, the ALPS representative (from the SLAIS BCLA/CLA student chapter), and sponsored by BCLA (British Columbia Library Association).

Getting Hired in Higher Education is an annual event organized for SLAIS students to hear, get advice, and ask questions about looking for, finding, and securing a job as an academic librarian. This year’s event was well attended (we had a full room!) and it seemed very appreciated.

This year, we had a larger panel with five academic librarians:

  • Aleha McCauley (University of British Columbia)
  • Annie Jensen (Langara College)
  • Emma Lawson (Langara College)
  • Danielle Winn (University of British Columbia)
  • Baharak Yousefi (Capilano College)

Panelists introduced themselves talking about their educational background, a little about the positions they currently hold, and primarily about their path towards their current job. I will not summarize everything, but will instead, concentrate on the advice they gave and the Q&A session.

While in School

Classes

More specifically, while at SLAIS, students were advised learn more about:

  • project management,
  • communications, and
  • assessment & program evaluation, especially the impact of a program/service.

and take classes that are skill or project based. Some specific classes that were mentioned:

  • Subject-Based Information Services (LIBR 530)
  • Collections Management (LIBR 580)
  • Instructional Role of the Librarian (LIBR 535) – particularly needed in academic
  • Library Automation and Systems (LIBR 551)
  • Open Access (LIBR 559K – 1-credit)
  • Management of Libraries and Archives: Community-Led Libraries (LIBR 579B – 1-credit)

Experience and Involvement

Panelists emphasized getting as much experience as possible paid or unpaid:

  • Co-op position
  • GAA (Graduate Academic Assistant)/Student Librarian job
  • Professional experience
  • Practicum – particularly to see what you like or don’t like
  • Volunteer

As to general areas, instructional and reference experience are key for academic libraries.

Getting involved while at school and afterwards is also very important, especially to network with others.

  • Participate in one or more professional association
  • Attend events – just like this one!
  • Attend workshops – e.g. CTLT’s Graduate Student Instructional Skills Workshop
  • Attend and/or volunteer at conferences
  • Get published e.g. student journals, blogs, reviews
  • Get involved in publishing e.g. as editor, reviewer
  • Building a professional online presence – employers will search for you

The Job Process

Searching & Applying for Jobs

Other than experience and involvement, employers look for:

  • good communication skills,
  • problem solving – i.e. how you work through problems, how you express yourself around change, and
  • interest in technology, especially web technology and social media.

To search for jobs, it is recommended to get RSS feeds to save time on searching.

Resumes & Cover Letters

Students have probably heard all the usual advice on format, keeping to the job description and such, but some other interesting points came up during today’s discussion:

  • Personality: to include or not? – Mixed advice was given to the librarians on how much to include. One mentioned that she began to get more interviews and job offers after including more of her personality, while another was told to tone down the personality as that will be seen in their web presence
  • Get it proofread by other people
  • Read more job descriptions to get a feel for the vocabulary used and what is expected
  • See what others are doing with cover letters that work, see Open Cover Letters
  • Get a mentor  – someone who you can learn from, ask advice, and who will give you feedback on your resume and cover letter.

Interviews

  • Get as much experience as possible with real interviews
  • Expect 1-2 days for the last stage of interviews
  • You will be expected to a presentation or a mock workshop
  • The panel will generally consist of 5-6 people
  • “Don’t try to guess what they want to hear, tell them what you think.” i.e. be honest
  • Evaluate the panel to see whether you want to work there and with that supervisor

Expectations

The librarians also provided words of advice on being realistic about the job market:

  • Be flexible about geographic location
  • If you can’t be, know that it’s a very competitive market – you will have to start in auxiliary, part-time, and contract positions
  • Start early during your last term of school – many noted that they were spending as much time on job searching and applications as they were on school work
  • Consider non-academic areas e.g. public libraries, vendors – i.e. it’s not true you can’t go from public to academic (or vice versa)

Once Offered a Job

It’s not often talked about since students generally concentrate on getting a job, but once offered a full-time, permanent position job, some things to consider:

  • Salary is negotiable – call the faculty association to ask if salary is representative if necessary
  • Get moving costs covered, if applicable
  • You might get an accommodation trip – trip to look for living space, if applicable
  • Look into start-up grants
  • Ask about professional development funds, though this is pretty standard
  • Know the major points of the collective agreement

In relation, the handbook for new faculty, Negotiating Starting Salaries published by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, was recommended.

Question & Answers

Here’s what came up during the Q&A session:

  • Q: How would you answer “Why are you interested in this division/organization?” A: draw on the posting, research the institution, but be yourself and answer honestly. Aside: You might consider using university colours in the presentation.
  • Q: What was the most difficulty question you have ever been asked? A: Specific research questions, but mostly, they want to know how you would deal with it.
  • Q: What are the best continuing education options, especially when lack time or money? A: Instructional opportunities, webinars (a library webinars blog was mentioned), grants (to go to conferences, etc.). Most positions come with professional development funds. Something you might ask about at the interview or when negotiating salary.
  • Q: Can you do a co-op and GAA at the same time? A: Yes. You can schedule it so that you do both at the same time, or consider leaving your GAA position.
  • Q: Is it possible to leave a contract for a permanent position? A: Yes. Talk to your supervisor, and they will generally be very understanding that you must leave mid-contract if you are accepting a full-time, permanent position.

Summary – The Top 5

In case you found that a lot to digest or just too much to read at once, here are the top 5 pieces of (general) advice:

  1. Get as much work experience as possible.
  2. Get experience or take a course in teaching and instruction.
  3. Get involved as much as possible, and network.
  4. Take project or skill based courses while in school.
  5. Be flexible.

EDIT: Summary version was posted in the Nov 2011 v.3 no.4 issue of the BCLA Browser in the ALPS Yodeler section.